Brining a Turkey

Any brine time is better than no brine time-- even just a few hours will reduce cooking time, impart moisture and result in more evenly-cooked bird. 

Brining, like marinating, is a technique of soaking a piece of meat in liquid prior to cooking. Marinating is done to infuse flavor and moisture. Brining can also add some flavor, but the primary reason is to tenderize the meat chemically with salt.

The salt "cooks" the meat before it actually cooks.

This salt creates a chemical reaction that, for lack of any better words, "cooks" the meat and therefore reduces the actual cooking time. Think of cured meats: they aren't ever cooked with heat, but preserved with salt.

The salt also allows more moisture into the meat.

The salt in a brine also weakens the molecular structure of the proteins in the meat. This allows the heat applied during roasting (or grilling, or frying) to break the proteins down even more easily.  As the proteins change during the brine, they allow more water in, and when the meat cooks, the water is locked into it. The final cooked turkey is juicy throughout.

Keep the ratio.

In general, you’ll need 1 cup of salt per gallon of liquid in any brine recipe, and a large turkey will need 3-4 total gallons of brine to be completely submerged. Salts all have different densities. Some manufactures have a fluffier grind; others more dense. That influences the weight per cup. If you want to be accurate, try to do everything by weight. A good rule of thumb is 3% salt as a percent of the weight of your turkey. The amount of liquid you use doesn’t really matter as much. The amount of salt, per lb of meat, will stay the same.

Not too much acid.

Acids, like vinegar and citrus, are also popular in brines. A caution with acids is that they also further denature proteins. Poultry is naturally fairly tender, unlike a pork shoulder or tougher cut of beef. If you brine too long in acid, it can make the meat mushy.

Note: for different weights, adjust amounts.


  • Turkey: Approx. 9,000 grams
  • Salt, 3% of turkey weight: 270 g salt
  • Sugar, 2% of turkey weight: 180g sugar
  • Black Pepper, 0.5% of turkey weight: 25 g
  • Carrot, Onion, Celery Dehydrated: 100g
  • Bay: 3 leaves
  • Thyme: 2 sprigs
  • Rosemary: 2 sprigs
  • Step 1: Find your brining vessel. Find the smallest possible container that you can fit the entire turkey in. A 5 gallon bucket often works well. Remove the gizzards from your turkey.
  • Step 2: Add water, 1 quart at a time, until the bird is fully submerged by 1 to 2 inch. Count how many quarts. That is how much brine you need.
  • Step 3: Bring your amount of water up to a simmer on the stove. Dump in the brine kit. Let steep for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool completely to below 40 degrees.
  • Step 4: Pour brine over the turkey. Weight the turkey down with something. Place in refrigerator, a cooler with ice, or some cold location protected from contamination. Brine for a minimum of 24 hours.

If you are in a hurry, you can make your brine in half the liquid then add the second half as ice at the end. Water is approx. 8.9# per gallon, so if you make 2 gallons of brine, you can start with 1 gallon of water and add to the hot brine 8.9# of ice, or approximately one small bag of ice (usually sold in 7# and 20# bags). Follow this simple brine recipe up to 48 hours before roasting, but even a few hours would help. Note: This is a 1 gallon recipe. You with probably need 3-4x to cover a large turkey.


  • 1 gal water (16 cups)
  • 1 cup of kosher salt
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 10 springs of thyme
  • 2 lemons, halved or quartered
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns

  • Add all ingredients to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Stir to ensure salt and sugar dissolve completely. Once dissolved, remove from heat and let stand for 30 min. Remove lemons and discard.
  • In small batches, blend the brine (either transfer to an upright blender or use an immersion stick) for half a minute, just until all ingredients are fully mixed.
  • Place your turkey in a large tub or cleaned cooler and cover with cooled brine (make sure turkey stays completely submerged; if necessary, weigh the turkey down with a few clean dinner plates.)
  • Place the brining turkey in your refrigerator, or in a large cooler in the coldest part of your garage or screened in porch if it'll stay below 40 day and night. A turkey can go down to 26 degrees before it freezes. Allow to brine for 24-48 hours, but remember any brine time is better than no brine time.
  • Remove the turkey from the brine, pat dry, and allow to come up to room temperature before cooking (will take a few hours.)

Next step, roasting.  

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